Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

At height of Moro conflict in the ‘70s, Marcos sent over 40 battalions in Jolo, to no avail; P-Noy should change the officials in charge of peace process

Twelve days after MILF elements brutally slew 19 members of the AFP Special Forces in a nine-hour gun battle in Basilan, the nation is still caught in raging debate on whether government should wage all-out war against the MILF or respect the “cease-fire” and continue the peace process. President Aquino has stoutly maintained that the official policy is not “all-out war” but “all-out justice,” as he cautioned government troops to uphold the peace process even as they captured a major MILF stronghold in Zamboanga Sibugay.   
Just how government will maintain this “all-out justice” remains unclear as it’s seems to be a notion just cooked up in a recent Cabinet meeting. Because the Mindanao strategy is still “work in progress” for the Commander-in-Chief, the AFP’s moves have been quite ad hoc (will Al-Barka be the last “area of temporary stay, or ATS?” Peks man?). 

But “work in progress” being firmed up is better than all-out war which is SHEER NONSENSE and would not bring any good to Mindanao. Recall that in the heyday of Ferdinand Marcos’ all-out war against the predecessors of the present-day Moro warriors, he brought over 40 battalions to Jolo. Nagbabanggaan na ang mga tropa doon sa dami nila, but the government neither decimated the secessionists nor brought peace to Moro land.   
The main problem with all-out war is that rebel warriors intermingle with the population the way NPAs do in the rural areas, and one cannot fully determine where their support comes from;  it’s not hard to guess that there’s a lot of that, as the warriors are their relatives.  Moreover, it’s obvious that the MILF is not homogenous and there are too many rogue elements the MILF leadership has been unable to control from the beginning.

Rather than all-out war which government cannot sustain (it could mean decimating entire populations or ultimately dismembering the republic), the road to REAL PEACE is through negotiation, but its efforts have to continue on dual fronts.  Government has to attack and counter-attack on the war front against rogue elements, but from a position of strength, employing all the time-honored tactics of warfare, especially intelligence building.
 Side by side, it has to patiently summon the MILF leadership to the negotiating table with the help of local officials who have everything to gain from total peace in Mindanao, and international mediators. By sticking to the negotiating table even while warring on rogue elements, government could perhaps shame the MILF leadership to hunt down and surrender its comrades who continuously spurn peace.


Teresita Deles

But continuing negotiations amid the mind-boggling complexity of interwoven issues in this troubled region calls for competent and seasoned representatives of government.  The appointment of Teresita Deles as Presidential Peace Process Adviser was unwise in GMA’s time as it is in P-Noy’s regime, for it is a fact that in the macho Muslim culture women are generally classified as second class. Deles has little stature to speak of and in fact, in the recent hearings in Congress on the P1.8 trillion national budget, media report said she was unable to explain how the P329 million OPAPP budget would be spent for 2012, despite its increase of more than 141.5 percent for next year! Deles also failed to provide guidelines on the government’s “Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan” program which allots P350,000 to each of about 940 conflict-affected communities. Neither does chief government negotiator Marvin Leonen have any stature outside the UP College of Law which he heads.
I realize that P-Noy disdains anyone even remotely tainted with association with GMA, but someone with the experience and stature of, say, former Executive Secretary and Brig. Gen. Eduardo Ermita, whose exposure to the Mindanao peace process antedates even the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, would be far more suitable as presidential peace adviser.  Ermita would disown me as a friend if I even remotely suggest him (he relishes his daily golf in his retirement), but someone with long experience and familiarity with the Muslim mind would be better respected by the other side.


It’s good to remember that PEACE has been won in far bloodier fields on this planet. Earlier I cited former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s recent essay where he wrote about the recent startling declaration by the Basque separatist ETA that it’s abandoning all violence for good in Spain and suing for peace with the government---breathlessly termed by Blair as “really the end of the last armed confrontation in Europe.”  He also cited the peace that has held up in Northern Ireland for years now, after peace discussions with Britain which he led at the time.
I have been reading up on the Northern Ireland conflict over the years and I remember someone commenting how the two protagonists drawn along religious lines (the mainly Catholic IRA rebels and Protestant opponents backed by British forces), after decades of violence and countless dead and mutilated bodies, finally reached the point of utter exhaustion---so that they both genuinely wanted peace. Sobra na ang kapaguran sa patayan. 
 With international figures descending on Belfast to help push the negotiations, e.g., US President Bill Clinton and Sen. George Mitchell (who recently resigned as President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East), and international media, the peace process was inked on Good Friday, 1998, and despite occasional lapses peace has held up well for over a decade now.  The UK said it would respect the outcome of a future referendum where the people of Northern Ireland would decide where they want to finally be with---Ireland or the UK.

Let’s hope and pray that our country DOESN’T GET to this point of exhaustion and endless piles of dead bodies that include the essence of Filipino manhood, and that both government and the MILF would already genuinely ache for peace and its “dividends” NOW, such as prosperity and a better life for Muslim Mindanao, which remains the poorest in the country. On TV I recently heard a Muslim woman from a relocation site in Zamboanga Sibugay pleading for government to stop the bombardments on the MILF camp, so that the thousands of dislocated families could go back to their homes and pick up their lives again.  
But as I have argued, government must negotiate peace from a position of strength for only this would be respected by the Muslim protagonists.  


Rep. Mandanas
Tonight at 8 pm., catch the dzRH program that Cecile Alvarez and I co-host every Sunday night.  Tonight we’ll discuss with Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas his earnest appeal for the national government to return to the LGUs the huge funds  due them as Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), that the Constitution decrees should be ”automatically released to them” (to quote that much-abused phrase these days).  Mandanas asks LGUs to support his advocacy that the national government recognize in 2012 an increase of approximately P500 billion in the IRA for LGUs---which is actually only “IRA backpay” from 1992-2012.
 I agree with Dodo Mandanas that the return of the IRA, which the national government has been hijacking since 1992, will enable LGUs to fully develop. It would be very much part of the LGUs’ growing-up process if they are entrusted with their own funds, so that they would be able to chart their own destinies---but with their constituents assiduously monitoring how these funds are spent.

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